The United States, built on immigrants and once nicknamed a melting pot, was once a great refuge and dream for immigrants struggling worldwide. U.S citizens have the right to vote and are afforded full protection under the United States law, whereas legal U.S. residents, or green card holders, simply have the right to reside in the United States for an indefinite period.
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An illegal immigrant is a person who enters a country unlawfully, violating immigration laws, or someone who remains in a country with no legal right to stay (Oxford Dictionary). American immigration laws currently prevent many from earning the right to citizenship and as a result there are over ten million illegal immigrants already residing in the U.S. Today, there is much debate about the future of American immigration and whether the benefits of undocumented immigrants living and working in American society outweigh the disadvantages. Many erroneously claim that immigrants negatively impact American life and contribute to rising crime rates. However, in reality, immigrants make significant contributions to American society and its economy, particularly the agricultural sector, and granting undocumented immigrants amnesty is in the best interests of the United States as they undoubtedly are an asset to this country.
In the words of Bernie Sanders, it is no great secret that across the United States undocumented workers perform a critical role in our economy. They harvest and process our food, and it is no exaggeration to say that, without them, food production in the United States would significantly decline (qtd. in ProCon.org). Hundreds of American farmers rely on immigrants to migrate to the United States to pick their crops. Depending on the crop, approximately 30 percent to 60 percent of migrants in California alone are undocumented immigrants, most of whom originate from Mexico (Schlosser). Mexican labour workers come to the U.S. seeking a better quality of life and working conditions, including significantly higher wages for the same work. In Mexico, workers earn hourly wages averaging approximately $2.70 an hour (U.S Labor Bureau of Statistics). By comparison, agricultural workers in the United States earn an average wage of $14.88 per hour (Sokanu). Not only have immigrants benefitted from higher wages, but the immigrants’ willingness to work long hours for [relatively] low wages has helped California to sustain its agricultural production (Schlosser). American agricultural production relies heavily on undocumented workers: according to the findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, 53 percent of the nation’s farmworkers are not authorised to work in the United States (3). Furthermore, undocumented immigrants [subsidise] the most important sector of the California economy (Schlosser). Unfortunately, however, after the clampdown on immigrants by President Trump’s government and the deeply flawed immigration system, various crops are spoiling because there are no workers to pick the crops. Currently the American employment rate is so high that the only way to have legal workers to pick the crops is by paying them much more than illegal immigrants, and for farmers this is not economically viable.
In California, there is a running joke that borders are opened during strawberry season and then closed once the season ends because the demand for strawberries is so high that farmers are desperate for labour to help pick the crops. California accounts for 80 percent of the strawberries grown in the U.S. and approximately 25 percent of the world’s commercial strawberries (Schlosser). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2016, strawberries topped the list of agricultural products using workers with H-2A visas in California. H-2A visas grant immigrants entry into the United States for temporary or seasonal agricultural work (Wikipedia). The highest number of workers with H-2A visas immigrated to California during the strawberry season to pick these crops. According to Geoffrey Mohan’s analysis of data from the U.S. Labor Department, more than 11,000 foreign guest workers were approved last year to harvest fruit and vegetables for California’s $47 billion agricultural economy, which has increased by five times since 2011. These data highlight a major risk of deporting undocumented immigrants from the United States; not only will the workers and farmers be negatively impacted, but this will dramatically affect America’s agricultural sector.
Having undocumented immigrants reside and work in the United States is profitable for the American economy and opens possible future endeavours for further economic development. While it may be true that some immigrants, documented and undocumented, take some American jobs, many of these jobs, such as agricultural labour, are undesirable and are generally not applied for by legal American residents. Furthermore, America currently has the lowest unemployment rate for over 40 years; as of October 2018, only 3.7 percent of the American population is unemployed (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). This affords the United States with the opportunity to grant more people legal status and have jobs, with the highest employment rate in a long time. Many claim that undocumented immigrants steal American jobs and are a burden to the American economy, but in reality immigrants don’t just increase the supply for labor, ¦ they increase demand for it. ¦ Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy (Davidson qtd. in ProCon.org). Immigrants, documented or undocumented, create jobs and pay a large amount of taxes, materially boosting the American economy. In fact, with over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, out of a total population of 325.7 million, this group has a significant impact on the American economy and community (U.S. Census Bureau). Researchers have found that immigrants, eligible only for legal status, contribute about $832 billion to the economy in a ten-year period, add 121,000 more jobs per year, and pay $109 billion in taxes over a ten-year period (Lee qtd. in ProCon.org). As Robert Lynch, Professor of Economics at Washington College, and Patrick Oakford, Research Assistant at the Center for American Progress stated, providing a legal status and a road map to citizenship for the unauthorized will bring about significant economic gains in terms of growth, earnings, tax revenues, and jobs (qtd. In ProCon.org). Furthermore, the sooner we provide legal status and citizenship, the greater the economic gains are for the nation (Lynch and Oakford qtd. in ProCon.org). By comparison, if undocumented immigrants earned and were granted legal status and citizenship, the U.S. [gross domestic product] would grow by $1.4 trillion over a ten-year period, immigrants would help to create an additional 203,000 jobs per year and add $184 billion in tax revenue (Lee qtd. in ProCon.org). Enabling undocumented immigrants the opportunity to earn legal status, whether a green card or citizenship, will not only enable the American economy to retain the taxes paid, but to grow even more as a whole.
Opinions on how to handle people who are already illegally residing in the United States are polarised. Allan J. Favish, attorney, like many others, claims that as long as [illegal immigrants] get to remain in the United States legally, they will have jumped ahead of those in their home countries who are attempting legal entry, however, others declare that these immigrants should be offered a path to legal status and eventually earned citizenship (qtd. in ProCon.org). This track to citizenship should be realistic, rather than being so burdensome that it prevents integration (The AJC qtd. in ProCon.org). Illegal immigrants do not need to be granted legal residency, or citizenship, but by adding to the economic revenue of the United States and substantially supporting multiple sectors in the economy, they need the guarantee that they will not be penalised for entering the country unlawfully and that they will be granted the opportunity to earn legal status just like other immigrants who attempt legal entry. According to the AJC, it is unrealistic and inhumane to deport these individuals from their families and lives in the United States (qtd. in ProCon.org). Many would argue that granting undocumented immigrants amnesty is the best feasible solution for the United States (the AJC qtd. in ProCon.org). According to the AJC, formerly known as the American Jewish Committee, immigration is good for the economy, illegal immigrants already pay taxes, most illegal immigrants are otherwise law-abiding, [and] immigration is a natural right (qtd. in ProCon.org). These immigrants have spent years building lives for themselves; buying or renting a house, finding a secure job with steady income, sending their children to school, and being part of the local and national community. To uproot millions of people, who comprise the backbone of the United States would be inhumane. It behooves America to find a reasonable path to legalize these immigrants and create a path to citizenship.
There is much debate over the correlation between undocumented immigrants entering the United States and fluctuating crime rates. Many Americans also worry that more illegal ?aliens’ will increase crime rates, citing that over 53 percent of all investigated burglaries reported in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas are perpetrated by illegal aliens (Gamma qtd. in ProCon.org). However, between 1990 and 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million, and during that same period, FBI data [indicated] that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent ¦ [and] the property crime rate fell 41 percent, which included depreciating rates of motor vehicle theft, burglary, and larceny (American Immigration Council qtd. in ProCon.org). In fact, Christopher Ingraham cites a study published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February that claimed there is a higher likelihood of American-born residents to be convicted of crime than immigrants, legally or illegally, in the country (Ingraham). Ingraham also stated there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than native-born Americans in Texas in 2015 (Ingraham). This shows that while undocumented immigrants have marginally contributed to crime rates in the United States, the authenticity of this fact is overpowered by statistics such as these that prove native-born Americans are the main cause behind fluctuating crime rates. The reality, therefore, is that the growth of the undocumented immigrant population residing in the United States does not directly correlate to an increase in violence and crime rates.
Both Democrats and Republicans would agree that the current state of immigration in the United States is broken. Opinions on how undocumented immigrants affect American society greatly vary, from the misperception that illegal aliens increase crime rates and steal jobs, to the well-documented perspective that they are vital for the economy, especially agricultural production, and should be offered the right to earn a legal path to citizenship. In the words of Richard L. Trumka, President of the AFL Congress of Industrial Organisations, the United States of America has 11 million aspiring citizens who rent or own homes, who raise families, and buy groceries, who work hard, who pay taxes, and do their fair share ¦ in thousands of cities and towns all across this country but who live here as second-class citizens, and something has to be done about it! (qtd. in ProCon.org). The United States needs to come together and understand that undocumented immigrants play a crucial role in the national community; benefitting the economy, adding diversity of thought and skills, creating new jobs, and forming everlasting bonds with the nation. Minorities came to believe even more fiercely and fervently than ¦ the Founding Fathers in the self-evident truths that all men are created equal, [and are] entitled to the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (Takaki, 20). Stripping millions of immigrants of the lives they have spent decades building in the United States and sending them back to their homelands, which often have unsafe, destitute living conditions, is not only morally wrong, but also harmful to the success of American society and the fundamental ideal of America as a nation of immigrants (John F. Kennedy). If the American immigration system provided a more efficient, clear-cut path for people seeking legal status, whether undocumented or not, it would profoundly benefit all lives involved. Revamping the immigration system would not only enable a greater population of immigrants be eligible for legal status, but it would also advance the development of the United States as one of the greatest superpowers in the world.
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